Memory & Mayhem is the stellar debut album by 2 time Tony Award winner, Norbert Leo Butz, and was recorded live at 54 BELOW in New York City. The CD features Norbert’s take on songs by Alicia Keys, Van Morrison, Jason Robert Brown, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and more.
From The New York Times Review By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: August 6, 2012
While watching Norbert Leo Butz shoot the moon at 54 Below on Sunday evening, I lamented that Broadway stars have so little room in the musical comedy sphere to be much more than singing cartoon characters. Mr. Butz, who has won two Tonys for best performance by a leading actor in a musical (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me if You Can”), is a much larger, more complex musical personality than could ever be contained by a single role. He has the soul of a poet and a bluesman on the same wavelength as Van Morrison and Tom Waits, two of the composers whose songs he performed.
The theme of the show, he said, was memory: “what we remember,” “how we remember” and “what we choose to remember.”
His remarks and his choice of material revealed a fascination with paradoxes and riddles. Elaborating on his ideas about looking back, he observed that in retrospect some of his happiest moments were in the middle of conflict, not when he had won an award.
The show’s artistic reach was established early on with a rendition of “The Waking,” a great Theodore Roethke poem set to music by the jazz singer Kurt Elling. In this profound meditation on impending mortality, a sense of wonder coincides with a heavy awareness of fate (“I learn by going where I have to go”; “This shaking keeps me steady”; “What falls away is always”). And Mr. Butz explored its lightest and darkest corners.
Another powerful song built around contradictions was “Poison and Wine,” a plaintive folk ballad by the Civil Wars, which Mr. Butz sang as a duet with Lauren Kennedy. It turns on the lines “Oh I don’t love you but I always will” and “I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you” that convey the accumulated weight of a relationship that has endured for too long to be discarded, and Mr. Butz sang it in a tone of agonized praise. Alicia Keys’s ballad “No One” was stretched into a keening falsetto.
Even on Broadway Mr. Butz’s singing has an unmistakable rock ’n’ roll edge. But who knew he could be the full-out blues singer who infused Marc Broussard’s “Home” with the authenticity of a weary, New Orleans-bound road warrior?
Anchoring his performance was an excellent folk-rock quintet directed by the pianist Michael Moritz, with two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. On some numbers Mr. Butz also accompanied himself minimally on acoustic guitar.
The performance seemed all the more remarkable after Mr. Butz mentioned that his recent visit to Patti LuPone’s show in the same club was the first time he had stepped into a cabaret. And in truth his concert fell far outside the narrow definition of cabaret as a nostalgic genre centered on the American Songbook. This is what cabaret could and should be, but almost never is.
3. The Way Young Lovers Do
4. The Waking
5. I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You
6. Killing The Blues
7. Can’t Let Go
8. “Remembering Well”
9. If These Walls Could Speak
10. Poison and Wine
12. Georgia On My Mind
13. “My Girls”
14. No One
15. “I had this dream…”
16. 16 Tons/Great Big Stuff
17. “The Band”
18. Broken Bicycles
19. Be Mine
20. Shadow of Doubt